INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) — LeBron James didn’t bat an eye, didn’t flinch.
As the NBA keeps an eye on an ongoing issue with his back and wonders if the planet’s best player is beginning to show signs of breaking down, James was asked Friday if he had a number in mind of how many games he intends to play in this season.
“Eighty-two,” he said.
Is that realistic?
“Yeah,” he said.
Well, either James is bluffing or more indestructible than anyone knew. Less than three weeks removed from receiving his second anti-inflammatory injection in 10 months, a shot that seemed to indicate the 30-year-old could miss some games, the four-time MVP doesn’t plan to take any time off — if he can help it.
James, who missed a career-high 13 games last season, opened this season by scoring 25 points in a loss at Chicago. The next night, he had just 14 in Cleveland’s 30-point blowout win over Memphis. Both games also became notable because James spent portions of them lying on his stomach near Cleveland’s bench to take stress of his back, looking the way Larry Bird and Steve Nash did toward the end of their careers.
The Cavs were off Thursday and James welcomed the rest.
“I didn’t feel that great. I was able to come in and get some treatment, get some work in, so I feel pretty good this morning,” he said Friday following a shootaround before the Cavs hosted the Miami Heat in their home opener.
James has dealt with a bad back for years, but he has successfully managed it with exercise and by staying one step ahead of the pain. For anyone who has watched him for years, it’s easy to tell when James doesn’t have his usual burst or lift. That was obvious on Tuesday night when he drove the lane in the final seconds and had his shot blocked by Bulls center Pau Gasol.
Now in his 13th NBA season, James plans to be smarter about preserving himself this season. He’s open to scaling back his minutes — he averaged a career-low 36.1 minutes — last season and he feels he’ll be able to lighten his workload because the Cavs will run more of their offense through Kevin Love.
James came to training camp in typically remarkable shape after an offseason spent doing vigorous workouts. He spent September pushing himself as hard as he ever has at a gym in Miami, incorporating yoga into his routine. James knows to stay on top he has to work harder than ever. A sixth straight trip to the NBA Finals will require unwavering dedication.
“When the lights and cameras is on, it doesn’t just happen,” James said. “I put a lot of hard work into my craft and I work on my game. It didn’t just happen overnight. I haven’t been in this position just because of the ability, the talent the man above gave me. I actually saw the abilities he’s given me and I took full advantage of it.”